The excitement and anticipation that’s building in the lead up to the first ever live broadcast of a Premier League match on free-to-air U.S. network television this Sunday is palpable. Even The Guardian is adding to the hype today in an interview with EPL Talk alumni Richard Farley. But Sunday’s match-up is pivotal for several key reasons:
1. Will the title decider for this season’s Premier League actually be the early game between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur instead of Arsenal versus Manchester United? We won’t know the answer until later this season, but it could be argued that Arsenal and Manchester United may become the old guard of the Big Four in England, while City and Spurs are the new guard.
2. Can Rob Stone, who will be making his debut for FOX, add an emotional connection between the viewer and the presenters and pundits on FOX that Christian Miles wasn’t able to achieve? Let’s hope that instead of the stuffy and very scripted feel to the telecasts that we’re used to seeing from FOX, that Stone will be able to breathe fresh air into the programming, something that Ian Darke and Steve McManaman do weekly for ESPN.
3. Can FOX’s live telecast of Arsenal against Manchester United beat the record number of viewers for a Premier League match on US television? The current record is 1.67 million who watched the Chelsea against Liverpool game, on tape delay, in November, 2011. There should be more Arsenal and Manchester United supporters watching, but the biggest difference will be the mainstream audience. Will they tune in to this game before the NFL championship game between San Francisco and New York Giants?
4. How will the team of Rob Stone, Piers Morgan and Eric Wynalda do? FOX finally has a smooth presenter who is very genuine in front of the camera, but he’ll be flanked by two very opinionated pundits, Morgan and Wynalda. If both pundits are given the latitude to speak their minds, it should be interesting to watch, to say the least.
5. Which city in England will reign supreme on Sunday? London or Manchester? Not that the bragging rights will be that important (the real importance is where the clubs finish at the end of the season), but it will be interesting to see if the balance of power, at least for a day, has shifted from one city to another.
6. Last, but perhaps most importantly, will Sunday’s match between Arsenal and Manchester United come close to breaking the 2011 Champions League Final between Barcelona and Manchester United, which drew a record 2.6 million viewers on FOX? Sunday’s game between Arsenal and Manchester United, I believe, is a mere dress rehearsal (in terms of TV ratings) before the live broadcast of Chelsea against Manchester United on FOX scheduled for Super Bowl Sunday next month. But if FOX can get a good bump in viewing numbers from the 1.67 million it saw in November to more than 2 million for the Gunners against Red Devils on Sunday, this will be a huge achievement for FOX and soccer in the United States.
Martin Tyler and Alan Smith will be commentating the match. Let’s hope that the game itself lives up to the hype, for the growth of the sport in this country as well as the heightened interest in the Premier League around the world.
The coverage for the Arsenal against Man United match begins on FOX at 10:30am ET, with the match itself kicking off at 11am ET. The earlier game on Sunday will feature Manchester City versus Tottenham Hotspur at 8:30am ET on FOX Soccer.
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